Free Report About Understanding, Respecting And Valuing Women’s Leadership Style
America has seen tremendous progress toward equality between the sexes since the feminist movement began in 1848 at the Senecca Falls Convention. Rather than being dominated in a patriarchal society and regulated to being reliant on men for survival, women in contemporary society are able to earn a living on their own. Whereas throughout history the leadership roles women have held have been in the home, in volunteer positions or as teachers women now have a much wider variety of leadership roles to choose from. Women now serve in leadership positions in government, business and the military. It is imperative for modern day men to learn to understand, respect and value women’s leadership style. To do this, one must understand the history of women in leadership and learn from women currently serving in leadership roles.
One of the first women who served in a leadership role in America was Abigail Adams. She was married to the second president of the United States, John Adams. While the role of “first lady” was not as overtly focused on leadership as it is today Abigail led in the way she could at the time. “Abigail Adams, wife of the second president, John Adams, is widely accepted to have been his intellectual equal and is famous for trying to influence her husband to ‘Remember the Ladies’ in the new nation’s code of laws.” (“First Ladies”, n.d., para 2) The leadership style Abigail Adams used was influence, she didn’t have an assigned leadership role within society so she led in a personal manner by asserting her influence on the person who did have an assigned leadership role, her husband. As the country progressed women began to have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles that were recognized by society.
One of the first women in American history to serve in a leadership manner recognized by society was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “Prominent 19th century suffragist and civil rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) became involved in the abolitionist movement after a progressive upbringing. She helped organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in 1848, and formed the National Women’s Loyal League with Susan B. Anthony in 1863. Seven years later, they established the National Woman Suffrage Association.” (Foner and Garraty, n.d., para 1) Unlike Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not rely on influencing a man in a leadership position. She became a leader within society herself. She used her education and social standing to drive change. Her desire for leading the country to equal rights for women was driven by her disdain of the cultural norm for the female role: “Elizabeth bore the last three of their seven children and grew resentful of her domestic confinement.” (Foner and Garraty, n.d., para 3) She was not going to be content merely influencing those in power, she wanted to be in a position of power herself. Elizabeth Cady Stanton paved the way for the female leaders that followed her.
After Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s death another person made major strides in women’s leadership within society. Eleanor Roosevelt began her leadership role as the first lady to the thirty-second president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, but her contributions to leadership went beyond being the first lady. After the president passed away Eleanor continued working in a leadership capacity: “From 1945 to 1953, Eleanor served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She also became chair of the UN's Human Rights Commission. As a member of the Human Rights Commission, she helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement.” (“Eleanor Roosevelt”, 2015, para 6) Eleanor Roosevelt solidified one of the major contributing impacts on women leadership styles that Abigail Adams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began. All three of these women believed progress in rights was necessary for increased quality of life for women, they believed that women would be happier if they were on equal footing with men in society. They were deeply driven to provide a better life for women which is indicative of the nurturing aspect of the female gender. These women were also driven to prove themselves, they threw themselves into their work with the tremendous motivation of proving that women could play with the big boys. These driving factors are still prevalent in women’s leadership styles today.
Attributes that make good leaders include, among many other things, nurturing actions, drive and consistency. In January 2014 Business Insider conducted a study comparing women and men in leadership: “Our standard 360-degree feedback instrument measures 16 competencies The majority of people we talk with make the assumption that women will excel at nurturing competencies such as developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration and teamwork. The chart above demonstrates that these competencies are more positive for women. But those competencies with the largest positive differences are taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results.” (Sherwin, 1/24/2014, para 11-13) In contemporary society women are still displaying the same nurturing and highly driven attributes that female leaders of the past displayed. The reasoning behind the difference in drive between male and females leaders was explained by research: “When we ask them to explain why women were perceived as more effective, what we frequently heard was, ‘In order to get the same recognition and rewards, I need to do twice as much, never make a mistake and constantly demonstrate my competence.’ (The shorter version of what we regularly heard from women was that ‘we must perform twice as well to be thought half as good.’)” (Sherwin, 1/24/2014, para 8) Women feel they need to work a lot harder to prove themselves to be as good as the men. This results in tremendous drive and motivation.
Historical and current research is useful for understanding, respecting and valuing women’s leadership styles such as their nurturing abilities and extreme levels of drive and motivation resulting in better work. However, this research lacks the personal touch that only speaking with a female leader can provide. To achieve this personal touch I interviewed a woman who will be referred to as “Sue” who has spent years in leadership roles.
“Sue” is a female in her mid-thirties who is a family friend. She was raised in an upper middle class household in the suburbs. She has worked in a variety of leadership positions, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. After graduations she began working as a civil engineer and was assigned the role of “project leader” a number of times which developed her competencies in leading others. She excelled as a leader and after working for her firm for only 6 months she was promoted into a management position.
I interviewed “Sue” over the phone the evening of March 6, 2015. We were both in our homes when we spoke, I was in my kitchen and she was in her front room. We began the interview at 7:23pm and ended it at 7:56pm. I took notes during the conversation so I could summarize the interview as accurately as possible.
ME: Tell me about your diversity background.
SUE: Well, I am a woman working in a management position on a leadership team that is predominantly male. Engineering tends to be more male dominated so my background in work has been that as a woman I am usually in the minority and often deal with men who are very different from me.
ME: Is that hard? Do you find it difficult being a woman working in an environment that is mostly men?
SUE: Sometimes. I am on the receiving end of sexual comments sometimes. And when my promotion into management was announced one of my co-workers who was on the conference call announcing my new role said “Huh, how short is Sue’s skirt today?” I doubt that people would think the men I work with were promoted based on their clothing. And I feel like I have to be more aggressive than I like to get my way sometimes.
ME: Do most of the men you work with treat you with respect?
SUE: The men in the management positions do respect me, it has been harder at times to get the men who report to me to respect me.
ME: Why do you think that is?
SUE: When I first got into management I wasn’t just a woman – I was also really young. That combination led to some prejudice.
ME: What are some cultural traditions you greatly value?
SUE: I was brought up in a Christian household so Christian traditions are of high value to me.
ME: Traditions like Christmas and Easter and going to church every Sunday?
SUE: I do celebrate Christmas and Easter but I don’t go to church anymore. The traditions I value are trying to practice what the Bible teaches – love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
ME: What does that mean to you?
SUE: Well, the Bible describes love as an actionits patient and kind and all that stuff. So I try to treat God with love – God is the creator of everything so to treat Him with love I have to treat everything He created with love – and I try to treat people with love.
ME: How does your cultural background affect how you interact with diversity?
SUE: Well, I try to treat all people with love – even if they are different than me.
ME: What about the men who treated you with disrespect because of your youth or gender?
SUE: Their actions made me feel angry but I still tried to treat them with love. I tried to put myself in their shoes so I would understand them better. I found that empathizing with them made it easier for me to treat them with love.
ME: So you tried to think about how you would feel if you were them?
SUE: Not exactly, I had to acknowledge that they thought differently than me so I couldn’t just think “Well, what would I do if I were in their position?” I would have acted differently in their position so I probably would have gotten angrier if I thought about what I would do if I was in their place.I tried to think how THEY think and that helped a lot.
ME: What have been some challenges for you because of your culture/diversity?
SUE: I feel like I have to prove myself constantly. I work a lot harder than the men because I feel like I am under more of a microscope. I am a lot harder on myself than the guys I work with.they seem to be able to compartmentalize better than me so I spend time at home worrying about work while they just leave it at the door when they leave for the day.
ME: Do you think that is because you are a woman or do you think there are some women who aren’t as hard on themselves as you are and some men who do what you do?
SUE: It may be somewhat due to personality characteristics but I think it also has to do with my gender. To be quite honest, I am not sure leadership in the business world is good for women. Can women be good leaders in business? Of course. Does that mean women SHOULD be leaders in business? I personally am not sure anymore.
ME: Do you think you are happier because of the success you have had in your career?
SUE: Not really. I used to think my happiness was contingent on external experiences – I needed to have a successful career and make good money to be happy – but now I believe that my happiness is more about how I think and how I treat people. My career has caused me a lot of stress and I am not sure it has made me any happier.
ME: What are some positive experiences you have had with diversity?
SUE: I won the “Best Leader of the Quarter” award. I was the first women in the entire company to win it. That was exciting.
ME: Have you had any positive experiences with men – like, you learned something you wouldn’t have learned from a woman?
SUE: Sure. The men I work with are very analytical and they helped me develop that part of myself. I am not saying that women can’t be analytical, I am just saying that in my experience I learned how to be analytical from the men I work with.
ME: How have you learned about the other cultures? I mean, how did you learn about men in corporate America?
SUE: Before I was promoted I would extend invitations to different managers to have lunch with me so I could learn from them, since most of management was men I wound up learning a lot from men.
ME: So you took them out to lunch and asked questions?
SUE: Yeah, or I would spend my lunch at their desk learning what they did – having them explain processes and procedures and other things to me.
ME: Did that help you understand them better.
SUE: Oh yeah. And I think it is one of the reasons I got promoted – they saw I was really interested in learning and growing.
ME: Have you encountered culture shock working with individuals from a different background/culture?
SUE: I think one of the biggest shocks was that the men I worked with didn’t value the employees as much as I did. I am driven to do everything I can to help the people who report to me and the men I work with sometimes would rather fire low performers and just hire new ones then try to help them.
ME: Where do you think that difference comes from?
SUE: I think I care more about people and some of the men care more about the bottom line – about the money.
ME: Do you think your approach it better than theirs?
SUE: I think there needs to be a mix – caring about employees can actually raise profits but if you take it too far you actually wind up hurting the business. There needs to be balance.
ME: What have you encountered in adjusting to working with individuals of a different culture?
SUE: I had to take myself less seriously and not get offended so much.
ME: What do you mean?
SUE: I used to get my feelings hurt a lot, I took a lot of stuff really personally. I had to relax and realize that if my male co-workers were joking around with me it meant they liked me – they weren’t trying to offend me or hurt my feelings.
ME: How did you change that about yourself?
SUE: I recognized my sensitivity was creating hurdles in my work relationships so I committed to change it. Then I was mindful and tried to avoid going on autopilot rather than just responding to things without thinking about it. I had to train myself to respond to things more effectively.
ME: That is all the questions. Thanks for talking to me about this!
SUE: My pleasure.
The main points from my interview with “Sue” were that her cultural background and gender both shaped her into leading in a nurturing manner, she believes she pushes herself harder than the men she works with and she has doubts about whether or not her career has made her happier. The first two points are supported by the historical and current trends in women’s leadership style. Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eleanor Roosevelt all shared nurturing attributes – one of the things that drove them was the desire to make people’s lives better. “Sue” also felt compelled to work harder than her male counterparts because she felt she had to prove herself. This is in alignment with the research conducted by “Business Insider” which showed that female leaders were more driven to prove themselves than male leaders. The last point, whether or not her career has made her happier, is something worthy of consideration for both genders. Has the progress is women’s rights resulted in a higher quality of life for women or has it created new problems that result in more inner turmoil and unhappiness? All that being said, I learned a lot from researching women leadership styles. I learned that the nurturing skills and strong drive and motivation women have to prove themselves results in a leadership style worthy of respect. I better understand why women leaders have the traits they have and how hard it can be for them to earn respect of the men who report to them. Based on what I have learned I will treat the women leaders I work with much better. I will let them know they don’t need to prove themselves to me because of their gender, I will encourage them to not overwork themselves and I will turn to them for guidance on the leadership skills that involve nurturing. Women leaders bring a lot to the table and now I understand, respect and value women’s leadership style much more than I did before I did research and interviewed a woman leader.
Eleanor Roosevelt. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 09:07, Mar 06, 2015, from http://www.biography.com/people/eleanor-roosevelt-9463366.
First Ladies. (n.d.). Women’s Leadership in American History, The City University of New York. Retrieved from http://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/content/womens_leadership/first_ladies.html.
Foner, Eric and Garraty, John A. (ed) (n.d.). “Elizabeth Cady Stanton”. History.com. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/elizabeth-cady-stanton.
Sherwin, Bob (1/24/2014.). “Why Women Are More Effective Leaders Than Men”. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/study-women-are-better-leaders-2014-1.
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